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Coronation Day China – a response to “Just Landed” on Radio One

A few days ago, my song “Coronation Day China” was featured on Aaron Hawkins’ Radio One show, “Just Landed.” The show is based around a panel of informed commentators dissecting new local music in a critical manner. The episode my song was on had Dr Graeme Downes, music academic and singer/guitarist and songwriter for the Verlaines, as well as music promoter Matthew Crawley picking holes in several songs, including mine.

I was interested to have my song dissected by such a knowledgeable panel, and was pleased to hear that Matthew really liked the song, praising its breezy guitar production and storytelling qualities. However both Aaron and Dr Downes gave such curmudgeonly assessments of it that I felt compelled to write a response.

From what I could gather, it wasn’t a bad review at all. Dr Downes described it as “very professionally done,” said it was a “slow burner” and that he became increasingly “intrigued” by it after several listens. He also noted that it contained an “element of veracity” and that it did “a good job” of describing the latter stages of an elderly woman’s life. However from the begrudging way he delivered his assessment, you’d have thought the song had completely ruined his breakfast!

Before I look at a couple of the points he raised, let me say that the panel did pick up on a couple of things I was aware could be problematic in the song – I knew there was potential for confusion between the various characters in the song (which Aaron noted). I also knew there was a dilemma around how to deliver the song, which I wasn’t sure I had ever completely resolved.

I’ll address this point first. Graeme felt this was what let the song down, saying my vocal sounded “vaguely pissed off.” Well, that’s perhaps a legitimate response – however the problem of how to deliver Coronation Day China is an interesting one. The story is told not by a protagonist or participant, but by me, the songwriter; a dispassionate observer. As Matthew Crawley pointed out on the show, the song is essentially “unemotional,” in that it is an objective recording of events and nothing more. It’s up to the listener to interpret those events based on their own experience and emotional responses. It wouldn’t be right to sing it in a sad and wistful manner; nor a cheerful, ironic one. The only suitable approach, it seems to me, is a detached journalistic style. How else would I have sung it? I’m really not sure.

Graeme’s other major point was that he felt the lyrical device of the title needed reinforcing. “Coronation day China,” was intended as a metaphor for a time gone by; an old New Zealand in which allegiance to the Queen was the norm and people still spoke of Britain as “home.” Dr Downes said he played the song to his songwriting class and they didn’t really get this (perhaps not surprising as I’d imagine they’re all of a fairly young demographic) and once they were told what I was referring to, felt it needed reinforcing later in the song, perhaps in the chorus.

My response to this is the same as Aaron’s one was on the show – I feel this would be too obvious; akin to handing listeners the song on a plate. As Graeme himself pointed out, this song is a slow burner – it is intended that people go back and listen a few times, analyze the lyrics and if they don’t know what coronation day china is, well that’s what Google’s for!

The pre chorus of the song goes:

Now he’s got it all up on Trade me

At first she didn’t understand he

had to explain

How anything can be sold

and anything can be bought again

These days.

Aaron said he found the reference to Trade Me grating. I can understand this response and considered it carefully in the writing of the song. The thing is that Trade Me has sort of become one of those brand names, like Hoover and Thermos, that has made it into the lexicon of everyday language. Therefore I felt it was legitimate to use it. I suppose I could have written something like, “Now he’s got it all up on a popular New Zealand online trading website,” but that’s not what people would say. The best writing advice I’ve ever had was “write how you talk,” and I try to follow that with my song lyrics.

Of course the other reason for using the word “Trade me” is that it fits nicely into the rhyme scheme. Without that word, the song in its current form simply wouldn’t work.

The final point I’d like to make is that Coronation Day China is one part of an album and I’d encourage anyone to listen to the whole record as a whole. In the context of the other songs on it, I believe Coronation Day China is invested with a slightly different meaning altogether.

Anyway, having addressed the points raised, I’d just like to say I was thrilled to have Aaron put my song on the show and that such an esteemed panel would take the time to comment on my song. Thanks to everyone involved.

Here are the full lyrics for Coronation Day China:

Coronation day china

And a dozen wooden picture frames

Looking for a buyer

Of memories long retired, forgotten place names

And Charlie said she needs to clear some space

Old boxes only gathering dust

But she found it almost too much to take

When he pulled out all of Jim’s old fishing stuff

 

Now he’s got it all up on Trade me

At first she didn’t understand he

had to explain

How anything can be sold

and anything can be bought again

These days.

 

Selling on behalf

Of one elderly owner

No longer has a lawn      

And doesn’t need a mower.

 

At first she thought she’d keep

Some holidays at the lake.

A Christmas day or two

Something borrowed something blue

A slice of wedding cake

 

But Charlie said Gran what’s the point

of all this junk

This little house is too small

Came over Sunday with his mate

Put it all out in the hall

Backed his trailer through the gate

 

Now he’s got it all up on Trade me

At first she didn’t understand he

had to explain

How anything can be bought and

anything can be sold

Online these days

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